Thursday, May 19, 2016

Trip Report: Kolkata to Yangon

6E77, A320 service CCU-BKK, May 1, 2016
In the beginning of May, I made a trip to the other side of the country, to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), to visit the Missionaries of Charity (separate post on that soon), with a good friend, currently living in Delhi. At his recommendation, I took advantage of geography to continue the journey eastward to Myanmar. This post is on the journey from Kolkata to Yangon, via Bangkok.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Jai Yesu! Victory to Jesus! Easter with the tribal Christians of South Gujarat

A few months ago my friend Fr. Saby of the Diocese of Baroda called up to invite me to celebrate Easter at his mission in a remote corner of south Gujarat. I readily agreed.

Fr. Saby, along with two other priests (one is a senior priest in residence), live in the village of Relva, about 140 km south of Baroda, in Narmada District of Gujarat State. The nearest town, Dediapada is 18 km away. The Catholic Church has a presence here dating back three or four decades, when a Spanish Jesuit started the mission at Relva (the Spanish Jesuits are owed a huge debt for their pioneering work in Gujarat state). A sizeable community of Christians (a few thousand, if I recall correctly, according to Father) now exists, mainly from the Vasava Bhil tribe, in the surrounding villages. In Relva itself, there is a boarding school ("ashram shala" in Gujarati), which houses 380 children.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil safe, working on release: MEA

Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil SDB, an Indian Salesian priest, abducted on March 4 during the horrific attack in Aden, Yemen, that where several, including four Missionaries of Charity, were brutally murdered, and whose whereabouts have been the subject of speculation and rumors, is safe, according to the Minister of External Affairs of India, Ms. Sushma Swaraj.

The following is a Press Statement issued by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) at 6:30 pm today, April 2, distributed via email to Indian news media. My thanks to Fr. Suresh Mathew of the journal Indian Currents, who shared this, via my friend Benwen Lopez. Please keep your prayers coming for Fr. Tom!

New Delhi: 2nd April, 2016, 6.30 p.m.

The CBCI Delegation met the Hon’ble Minister for External Affairs, Smt. Sushma Swaraj, at her Office this evening and discussed all matters related to the release of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian Priest, abducted by the suspected IS Militants from Aden, Yemen, on March 4, 2016.

The CBCI Delegation expressed the deep concern and distress of the Catholic Church in India over the fate of Fr. Tom, whose whereabouts are yet not known, even after 29 days of that sad incident. The Delegation firmly requested the Hon’ble Minister to throw some light on the mystery involving the abduction and the truth regarding the present state of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, SDB, especially now, when wild rumours are being spread at home and abroad about the fate of Fr. Tom.,

Ms. Sushma Swaraj has categorically assured the delegation that Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil is safe and that the Government is adopting all possible means for the quick and safe release of Fr. Tom. The Honorable Minister further said that the details of the negotiations and the technicalities involved with the negotiations cannot be divulged now, as it would endanger the process of release itself. Ms. Sushma Swaraj also shared with the delegation the strenuous effort taken by the External Affairs Ministry, and personally by her to procure a safe passage for Sr. Rema, the only surviving  nun, from the terrorist attack in Yemen. The Honorable Minister also said that the wild rumors being spread about any harm done to Fr. Tom, are totally baseless

 The members of the Delegation expressed the sincere gratitude of the whole Church in India for the various steps taken by the Government of India and, in particular, the Hon’ble Minister for External Affairs, to trace and rescue Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil from the abductors.

The Delegation consisted of the CBCI Deputy Secretary General, Monsignor Joseph Chinnayyan; CBCI Spokesperson, Fr. Gyanprakash Topno; CARITAS India Executive Director, Fr. Frederick D’Souza; CBCI Secretary for Education, Fr. Joseph Manipadam, SDB; and the Secretary for CBCI Legal Matters, Advocate Jose Abraham.

The Delegation handed over to Smt. Sushma Swaraj the same Letter, which was earlier handed over to the Senior Officials of the External Affairs Ministry, as the Hon’ble Minister was not in Delhi on those days.

Msgr. Joseph Chinnayyan,
Deputy Secretary General, CBCI

(Emphases added)

CBCI delegation with Ms. Swaraj. (Image courtesy, CBCI) 
[This blog belongs to Fr. Gaurav Shroff, a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, USA] 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"I am so tired of you liberal church in America"

Thank you, Mother Angelica!

"For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion." 
(Blessed John Henry Newman, "Biglietto Speech," 1879) 

Twenty five years ago, the Lord Jesus changed my life, when He revealed Himself to me on Good Friday.

I started going to Mass every Sunday after that. I longed for the Eucharist. I remember trying to explain the Eucharist (and failing miserably) to my father, when he asked me why I needed to become Christian, "to join their club," when I could so easily just follow Jesus' teachings, and worship Him, as a Hindu.

A few weeks after that Good Friday, I knocked on the doors of the parish offices, and was ushered in to see the parish priest. He seemed rather flummoxed that a high-caste, upper class, Gujarati Hindu boy would want to become Christian. As reading, he handed me the first volume of "Sacramentum Mundi," a theological anthology by Karl Rahner! (Thankfully, I couldn't make head or tail of it.)

As I expressed my desire to become Christian, I was told that baptism was not necessary. That some lived as "Hindu Catholics." That evangelization meant that the Church wanted everyone to be better in their own religion, not that they become Catholic.

In a parish Scripture study class which I attended during what was (effectively. It didn't exist in actuality as an organized process) my catechumenate year, the Jesuit transitional deacon taught from the texts of the Jesus Seminar, demythologizing and deconstructing left, right and center. I saw the scandal on the face of the old ladies who attended. I remember thinking quite explicitly, "If this sh*t is true, why bother with the Scriptures? Why bother with the Church? With anything?"

Monday, March 28, 2016

On naming the evil we face

As a follow up to the post below, I also want to put on here what I wrote on Facebook the evening that Islamic terror made its presence felt in Brussels. Of course, since then, we've seen the suicide bombing at a soccer match in Iraq, and the gruesome, cruel, godless act of a suicide bomb at a park full of children on Easter Sunday in Lahore.

We cannot discount the religious nature of the threat facing us. Part of it, in the West (and as I've seen on the editorial and op-ed pages of the Indian Express all week, also in that stratum of Indian society most influenced by Western liberalism), is really a distaste for Christianity by the reigning secularist ideology (written after the Charlie Hebdo attacks -- was it just last January?)

It's late here -- I still have to pray my Rosary (which will be for a defeat of Islamic terrorism, and the conversion of the world to Christ) and my thoughts have been with my brother priests in Atlanta (see post below, on the Chrism Mass). I have a bunch of thoughts churning in my head as the horror of Brussels rippled through the world, that will have to wait till another day. However, this much I do want to say:

What we face in the world today is yes, a political ideology that is hate filled. But to assert, as so many do, that this has NOTHING to do with religion is at best naive. It is blind. It is stupid. It may even be culpably, sinful to keep saying that.

Whether this is the "real" Islam or not, this ideology is extremely powerful, vocal, potent, attractive and widely popular in the Islamic world.

No "Muslims" as a category aren't "The Enemy." They are human beings, loved infinitely by God. Christ died for them as much as He did for anyone else. I love Muslims, and I will continue to defend their civil liberties as citizens of our democracies.

However, Islam is not the same as Muslims. Yes, reality is complex. However making FACILE comparisons with other world religions, or asserting that all religious fanaticism is the same, or that, all religions are the same, or that because there are those who kill abortionists, therefore one cannot criticize Islamic terrorism as ISLAMIC, is both false and blind. Dangerously so.
Criticism of Islam is not the same as hatred or bigotry towards Muslims or anyone else. [You won't find me, or any serious Catholic asserting that criticism of Christianity is hatred of Catholics or Christians. It can be, but it isn't always.This distinction is vital. Or, it is not the same thing, to criticize, say the policies of the State of Israel, and be anti-Semitic.]

The sooner we realize this, the sooner we'll be able to actually what faces our societies and our world. Responding to reality means acknowledging it first, in all its complexity, but without blinders.
Pray for Brussels. Pray for the millions of victims of Islamic terror around the world.

Our Lady of Peace, pray for us!

Tremble hell!

The week before Holy Week, I came across the report of the eyewitness account of Sr. M. Sally, the one Missionary of Charity who escaped the brutal attack in Aden, Yemen, by goons from the so-called Islamic State, on March 4.

Around the same time, we learned of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil SDB, an Indian Salesian priest who had been abducted in the same attack. Rumors of his supposed crucifixion on Good Friday are circulating, but with no confirmation so far, and little reliable information. On Tuesday of Holy Week came the horrific bombings in Brussels. On Easter Sunday, terrorists bombed a park in Lahore, Pakistan, killing at least 69, mainly children (!), injuring hundreds. 

It seems appropriate to publish here, what I wrote on Facebook after reading Sister M. Sally's account of the martyrdom of heroic nuns in Aden. 

Tremble, Hell! Tremble, enemy of the human race! Your vile machinations may end the life of the body, but you will never win. You rage for all eternity, because you FORSAKE Him who created you! You have lost! Your kingdom has been DESTROYED. Your rule is over! Your reign is embittered, abolished, mocked, purged, bound in chains, for Jesus Christ the Lord has won the victory!*
You may crush the heads of the Lord's servants, but it is your head which is crushed (Gen 3:15)! It is your kingdom which is crushed! You have lost!

Your minions who scurry about killing and sowing fear, thinking they are following God's prophet -- they are following only you who is the deceiver, the father of lies and murderer from the beginning! And they who think paradise awaits them for their savagery, will only find ruin, will only find your fearsome and dark embrace.

You followers of Daesh, repent while you still have time! Turn to Him who is Mercy, whose Face is Mercy! Turn to Him, whom your own writings call Isa Masih and acknowledge Him as your Rabb, your Lord, your God, and beg forgiveness! Acknowledge Jesus, Isa, ibn-allah, the Son of God, for there is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved! (Acts 4:12) Even you, with your sins like scarlet, can find forgiveness! Even you, mired in the horrific filth of your diabolical violence, we, the People of the Cross, qawm-al-salibi, we pray for you, and we beg the Lord to reveal Himself to you. Submit to Him, and find, lo, not slavery, but freedom, not a terrible master but the face of the loving Father! Repent, turn away, seek baptism, rise to new life!

If the Victorious Lord permitted this horrific cruelty to those called to follow Him in virginal chastity, evangelical poverty and holy obedience, those who live to love the poorest of the poor, it is because in His Providence, He will bring an even greater good out of it, so that, through the courage of those who stand firm, and wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14), many more may turn from their torpor and sins, and find life and forgiveness!

Oh foolish people, who seek to destroy the Bride, whom He died for ... how many have raged against Her down the ages! The blood of the martyrs brings life, because it is His life, His sacrifice, His victory, in them!

O holy martyrs of Yemen, pray for us, the Church militant! May your glorious martyrdom bear abundant fruit!

Please continue to pray for peace in the world, for the defeat of this hideous evil ideology that is Islamism, which underpins global terrorism today, for the conversion of terrorists, the release of Fr. Tom, and the continued spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

I also want to add, as a disclaimer of sorts, what I had also put on my FB page as a comment: "
Ok. I got really impassioned! It is easy to write this on social media. Pray that I -- that any of us -- if we were to face these horrible murderers -- or any such test of faith -- will persevere, and in His mercy and by His grace, be able to give the final witness." 

The litany of verbs in this line is taken from St. John Chrysostom's epic Paschal Homily

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

My evil and His mercy: the annual renewal of priestly commitment at the Chrism Mass

Image courtesy Archdiocese of Atlanta (link to video of last year's Chrism Mass)
In a few hours, the priests of the Archdiocese of Atlanta will gather around their Archbishop and Auxiliary Bishops, and concelebrate the Chrism Mass. Ordinarily celebrated on Holy Thursday, the Mass is quite often held earlier in the week, or even during the previous week, given the geographical size of dioceses, and the need for priests to be at their parishes to prepare for the Sacred Triduum on Holy Thursday itself. At the Mass, the Holy Oils are blessed by the Bishop -- the Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Infirm and Sacred Chrism -- which will be used by the priests (and deacons) in their sacramental ministry throughout the coming year. The other central part of the Chrism Mass is the renewal of priestly commitment. The presbyterate of the particular gathers around their Ordinary, and recommits itself to priestly service.

My first Chrism Mass as a priest was on Tuesday of Holy Week in 2014, and it was a very moving and powerful experience. This year, I was cognizant of the fact that I would be away from the Archdiocese. Last week, I had originally scheduled my travel to arrive in Mumbai on Thursday morning, so I could attend the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Bombay that evening -- most Chrism Masses in India, it seems, are held a week before Holy Thursday.  However, the funeral of Fr. Joseph Michael Peek intervened, and I extended my stay; so I am missing participating in a Chrism Mass this Holy Week.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Consummatum est: Fr. Joseph Peek's funeral Mass

Image courtesy All Saints Catholic Church
Fr. Joseph Peek, priest of Jesus Christ, presbyter of the Church of Atlanta, was laid to rest today in an amazing funeral Mass at All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody (where he had resided for the past few years, as his illness progressed).

You can read all about his beautiful life in the obituary:
On March 14, 2016, Father Joe, surrounded by the songs and prayers his parents and siblings, drew his last breath, completed his life on earth, and began his eternal life with Christ. Father Joseph Peek is survived by his parents, Mary and Joseph of Atlanta, his ten siblings, and his thirty-nine nieces and nephews.
Photo courtesy Aileen Barreca on Facebook
 I didn't know Father Joe very well. He was always very solicitous of me as a seminarian (as he was, all of us), and in his online ministry, joined in the occasionally vigorous discussions on my Facebook page. I recall a few years ago when, after an Ordination Mass at the Cathedral, he accompanied me (I think I was a Deacon), and several seminarians, to Finelli's on Peachtree. I've been scouring around for the inevitable photograph that I took, as is my wont ... but no luck. With all the best of intentions, I didn't get to say goodbye in person ... Athens was far away, and in November, I was called away rather suddenly from the Archdiocese for family reasons. I've relished hearing the stories of my brothers who went to visit him and pray with him -- of his prayerfulness, his grace, and his quiet, unassuming embrace of the Cross of his physical suffering. What graces his "yes" to Jesus has won for us over the years! We truly do not realize the benefits we reap from such spiritual giants in our midst -- those who, from a purely secular perspective we would see as a "loss." A loss? An incredible gift that the Lord gave us, and as we were reminded in the homily today, a gift that Fr. Joe offered up so much of that suffering for the sanctification of the priests of the Archdiocese.

Photo courtesy Aileen Barreca, on Facebook.
Today, I joined over a hundred of my brother priests (109, according to a post on Facebook), with our three bishops, with Archbishop Gregory presiding, to celebrate the funeral Mass at All Saints. Nearly 3000 faithful crammed into every corner of the church. It was a beautiful service -- the Holy Mass, which, as Msgr. Marren reminded us, was at the center of Fr. Joseph's life -- renewing again the eternal sacrifice of Calvary. The spirited singing, eloquent and moving homily by Fr. Joe's brother, and brother priest, Fr. Kevin Peek (I just knew he would reference Fr. Paul Scalia's amazing homily at his late father's funeral!), musical tributes, and moving words from Fr. Joe's father, and Msgr. Marren, who welcomed Fr. Joe into his residence at All Saints, and the parish that took care of him in his last journey.

One of the most moving moments for me was when we gathered around the casket outside, just before the hearse bore it away. Fr. Kevin invited all the priests present to come up one by one and bless the casket. We did. And turning to our Mother, a full-throated Salve Regina rose up to the heavens from all the priests gathered.

Thank you Father Joe. Thank you for your "yes." We will pray for you. You knew how much you needed -- and need -- our prayers. But pray for us too, soon I beg the Lord in His mercy, from your mansion in heaven, for all of us, but especially your brother priests on the Archdiocese, to whom, the Lord in such a special way, offered as a gift, a holy and living sacrifice.

Thank you Lord Jesus for your priesthood, and that priesthood lived so beautifully in the life of Fr. Joseph Michael Peek.

A couple of links:

Fr. Peek's obituary.

A blog with details of the last stages of Fr. Peek's life, as well as links to videos and photos.

Photo courtesy Aileen Barreca on Facebook